Have You Ever Wondered

  • which one to buy: wheat germ or wheat bran? They're two different parts of the grain, so their benefits differ. The germ is the nutrient-rich inner part, and the bran is the outer coating. From a nutritional standpoint, 1 ounce (V3 cup) of wheat bran has a lot more fiber, about 13 grams, than the 4.4 grams of fiber in 1 ounce (V4 cup) of wheat germ. Wheat germ has more protein, and more of some vitamins and minerals.
  • what psyllium is? (When you pronounce it, the "p" is silent.) Psyllium—high in soluble fiber-is a seed husk used in some bulk-forming natural laxatives; it also has potential cholesterol-lowering qualities. Some supplements have it. Its source is plantago, a plant that grows in India and the Mediterranean. Although some people may be allergic to psyllium, in moderate amounts it's safe for most people.

"Waistline Watchers"

Fiber-rich foods may help your body keep trim! Often they're lower in calories, fat, and added sugars, and they're less energy dense. Because they take longer to chew, fiber-rich foods may help slow your eating down, so you may eat less. With their added bulk, they help you feel full sooner, so you eat less. Fiber itself can't be fattening or provide calories—it isn't digested.

To make a fiber-rich diet work for your waistline, remember to keep your calorie intake low at the same time. (An active lifestyle is important, too.)

Help for People with Diabetes

For people with diabetes, fiber, especially soluble fiber, may perform another important function— helping to control the rise of blood sugar levels after eating. For some people with diabetes, fiber's role in blood sugar control may help reduce the need for insulin, or medication. Incorporating fiber-rich foods, including those with soluble fiber such as legumes (dry beans) and oats, into an overall healthful eating plan to manage diabetes is wise.

The reason why soluble fibers may help lower blood sugar levels isn't fully understood. Perhaps it's because fiber makes the stomach contents more viscous (more sticky and gummy) and so prolongs its emptying time.

Because carbohydrates break down more slowly, sugar is released and absorbed more slowly, too. That in turn slows the rise of blood glucose levels. To learn more about blood sugar and its role in diabetes, see "What Is Diabetes?" in chapter 22.

If you have diabetes and want to consume more fiber to help control blood sugars, talk to a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator.

Fiber—Heart Healthy, Too!

Another potential benefit: Some soluble fibers (mostly beta glucan and pectin) may help lower the level of total blood cholesterol, mainly by lowering LDL cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol. In the small intestine, soluble fiber acts like a sponge, binding cholesterol-rich bile acids. As a result, they can't be reabsorbed, but instead pass through the intestine as waste. As a result, the body absorbs less dietary cholesterol, and the liver pulls more cholesterol from the blood to replace the lost bile acids. That may make blood cholesterol levels drop.

Years of research show that soluble fibers in beans, psyllium, oats, flaxseed, and oat bran seem to help lower blood cholesterol levels in some people. In fact, there's enough sound research for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow foods to carry health claims linking oats, psyllium, and whole grains with heart health. See "Health Claims on the Label" in chapter 11 for more about health claims. Those same high-fiber diets were lower in fat, too. What's more, these foods have other substances besides fiber that may affect the way the body uses lipids (fats). Yet another benefit: fiber-rich foods may displace fattier foods in meals and snacks.

The benefits of fiber-rich foods for heart health are truly complex. Until more is known about lowering blood cholesterol levels, continue to consume fiber-rich foods of all kinds; limit your intake of saturated fats and trans fats, while consuming healthful fats in moderation; maintain a healthy weight; and live a physically active lifestyle. Another area of research: a potential link between higher fiber intake and reduced blood pressure.

Tip: You need to consume a lot of soluble fiber for heart-healthy benefits. Research suggests that it takes 3 grams a day for a cholesterol-lowering effect. Here are some equivalents: 1V2 cups of cooked oatmeal, or 1V2 cups of some ready-to-eat oat bran cereals, or 3/4 cup of uncooked oatmeal (added to meat loaf, salmon cakes, muffin batter, or as a topping for yogurt or fruit).

For more about blood cholesterol levels, see "Prevention: Cholesterol Countdown" on page 546.

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